At the beginning of 2021, I started talking about the Small Group Boom. As COVID numbers were descending, a pattern began to emerge in several disciplines reminiscent of the aftermath of the Spanish Influenza in 1918-1919. After that period, people began to travel extensively both domestically and internationally. Then, of course, came the Roaring 20’s. The Spanish Influenza was never mentioned again even though it didn’t entirely disappear until the 1950s when it was overcome by Bird Flu (see this 1997 New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell). Sorry for that bit of bad news.
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The churches I coached anticipated a great reduction in COVID cases and prepared for the Small Group Boom, then the Delta variant appeared. No one was prepared for that. The Small Group Boom of 2021 ended up being more of a Small Group Bump, but it was a significant bump. These churches ended up with more small groups than they ever had and more people in groups than ever. And, more of their groups continued. In places where we might have launched hundreds of new groups in more normal times, we launched dozens of new groups instead. They were “COVID successful.”
The church I am serving as Life Group Pastor in Lansing, Michigan saw a group increase of 176% in 2021. The senior pastor led the church in two alignment series which we self-produced. We started the year with 20% of their 1,500 adults in small groups and ended the year with 60% in groups. We are launching a third alignment series in February to reach our goal of 80% of adults in groups. This is both the in-person worship attendance (1,000) and the online worship attendance (500).
While everyone has been forced to adapt to the changing culture produced by the pandemic, many of the best practices taught in Exponential Groups are working very well. Inviting people to start their own groups is working. Gathering a group of friends is working. Coaching every new leader is working. Offering a next step series for groups to continue is working. And the Holy Spirit is working to transform lives and make disciples in groups. With a dose of flexibility regarding when, where, and how a group meets, these strategies have proven successful.
Here’s what’s different:
- People have re-evaluated their priorities.
During the pandemic, most people divested themselves of everything – social activities, church activities, commuting to work, hobbies, and pretty much everything else. Once people had a “blank slate” on their calendar, they’ve been choosier about what to bring back. For many people, their calendars are not nearly as full now as they were at the beginning of 2020. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
- Uncertainty produces a lack of commitment.
Preach what is certain. With so much uncertainty in politics, economics, supply chain (when have you ever worried about the supply chain), race relations, local schools, and many other things, you can give them what is certain. As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35, NIV).
- Online worshippers are willing to meet in groups (online groups AND in-person groups).
Online services are great in delivering programming. Small groups are great in creating community. If you lead your online congregation to start groups, they will. Some are only uncomfortable meeting in-person in large groups, but they will meet in-person for a small group. Don’t overlook your online congregation. They will follow where you lead them. Online ministry is both an opportunity and a responsibility.
- Embracing and empowering the church you have.
2019 isn’t coming back. Move forward. Stop waiting for it. Starting leading the church you have.
- Now is the time to realign the priorities in your ministry.
If you ever wanted to change things, this is your moment. During the pandemic, you had a church of small groups (not just a church with small groups). Now is the time to emphasize small groups in the uncertain days ahead.
I want to help you prepare for what’s ahead for your church in forming groups in 2022. According to Gauge Research, a secular research firm in Washington DC, right now in the fourth quarter of 2021, people are planning for spring 2022 already. That means two significant things for groups (barring another Coronavirus surge):
- The New Year of 2022 is a crucial window to launch groups. Hit the New Year hard in recruiting leaders and launching groups. According to Gauge, people will be gone after Easter.
- Your next big opportunity for a major group launch is fall 2022. While this is typically the biggest group launch of the year, post-Covid this could be huge.
People are ready to move forward. You hear it. You can feel it. Let’s talk about what it means to move forward in 2022. Join me for the Small Group Restart. This is a 5-day challenge to think through your small group strategies for 2022. Watch a daily video. Interact in our private Facebook group. Join a community of like-minded small group folks who are figuring things out just like you are. Click here to join.